[From Bill Powers (2004.06.08.0405 MDT)]
Bill Williams 4 June 2004 9:25 AM CST -
Bruce Nevin (06.03.2004 16:04 EDT) -
Martin Taylor 2004.06.04.17.41 -
and others not so recently, but similarly, involved in dicussing PCT.
I think that the basic ideas behind PCT, with respect to which I am only an
organizer and spokeman, not the inventor, are being lost as those with
other interests struggle to preserve the validity of their own fields of
expertise. I won't say that this is understandable, because my acquaintance
with the membership of the CSG does not offer me any explanations
consistent with what I see as the intelligence and accomplishments of the
people in this group. What I see is not mainly a group of people fired with
inspiration by the first new conception of human organization in many
centuries and working in concert to explore and develop it, but a set of
representatives of diverse older points of view who are doing their best to
prevent PCT from making any major alterations in what they know and how
they go about knowing. In principle this may be understandable, but knowing
the people involved I find it astonishing and inexplicable.
Before any new approach can be used to develop a new field from first
principles, all committment to other approaches must be discarded
completely. Any vestige of loyalty to older ideas, any desire to defend
previous accomplishments, any respect for history or persons or knowledge
or deisciplines with names, must be put aside to the extent humanly and
practically possible. Why? Because such things create biases that blind us
to the real implications of the new idea. If we're always trying to look
ahead to make sure our reasoning isn't going to jeapordize some idea we
consider precious, we will not be able to reason clearly. If we reject
conclusions simply because they differ from received wisdom or our own
beliefs, we will abort lines of reasoning that are perfectly valid. If we
see the new idea mainly as a way of validating, at last, older ideas of our
own that we have had trouble persuading others to accept, we will pick and
choose what suits us and discard what doesn't, and destroy the idea.
Why should anyone who has confidence in some existing bit of knowledge or
reasoning fear discarding it and starting over from a new set of first
principles? If there is anything to the knowledge or reasoning, it will
show up again, only this time supported by a more completely worked-out
system. And if that doesn't happen, we will be much better off than to
continue to preserve ideas without foundations..Research with PCT has much
to teach us, but before that can happen we have to unlearn what we thought
we knew. As I say, if there is anything of value in what we thus discard,
we will get it back in the end, with generous interest. But until we let
go, we will only cripple ourselves and pull the teeth of PCT.
Is PCT a "new approach":or is it a new foundation? If it's only a new
approach, then whatever is useful about it can be absorbed selectively into
older fields where it will become subordinate and disappear among all the
other tools. But if it's a new foundation, then absorbing it selectively
will filter out that which is new and leave only the status quo, unperturbed.
I say that PCT is a new foundation. It is based on methods new to the life
sciences (save for a few pockets of enlightenment) and to apply those
methods requires learning skills new to most life scientists . Computer
modeling using principles worked out by engineers is the furthest advanced
technologically, but its scope is limited by our lack of understanding of
how perceptions are generated in the brain. Other forms of modeling, just
as rigorous, can probably be worked out, but little work on that is
happening now. If we want to use PCT as a set of first principles, we have
to develop the appropriate methodology for building and testing models, and
apply it systematically to build from the known into the unknown.
But first we must free ourselves of committments to older ideas, regardless
of their apparent worth and value. If they really are worth something and
provide some sort of value, they will be back some day. But we have to stop
caring whether that happens, and set foot on the new path without trying to
guess where other trails might have ended up, if anywhere.
I think this is a reasonable and responsible way to conduct a revolution.
We don't have to destroy anything or claim that other ideas are wrong. We
don't have to claim there is nothing of value already on the books. We can
simply assure those who become alarmed that anything of real value will
surface again in its proper place, when developments have gone far enough.
And to those who may doubt the value of many current ideas, we can say that
ideas without justification in first principles will probably submerge for
good, and good riddance.
I think this manifesto will separate the revolutionaries from the
conservatives, so to speak. Anyone who values preserving existing methods
and knowledge more than creating a new discipline is welcome to follow that
path, wherever it leads -- and to do it somewhere else. See you later, if
we arrive at the same place. The rest of us, if that turns out to be
plural, will support, encourage, and pursue the revolution and let the
chips fall where they may. Of course if you want to stay on CSGnet to mount
the defense of things past, the rest of us will go somewhere else.
Bandwidth is bandwidth, whatever it is called.
Whatever the readers of this post may decide, I have chosen my path. Now
all I how to do is stay on it.